In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what’s on the radar of our editors for the morning of Jan. 25 …
What we are watching in Canada …
As the Omicron variant continues to strain Canadian hospitals, a vaccine hesitancy expert is voicing concern about the slow vaccination rate of children between the ages of five and 11.
In the two months since the approval of child-sized doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, only 51 per cent of children in that age group have had at least one dose.
That’s compared to more than 72 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds in the two months following approval for that age range.
Kate Allen, a post-doctoral research fellow at Centre for Vaccine Preventable Diseases at the University of Toronto, says while she had predicted parents would be slower to have their younger children vaccinated, the rate is even lower that she expected.
Preliminary data on national life expectancy from Statistics Canada shows the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to an average seven-month decline — the largest decrease recorded since 1921 when the vital statistics registration system was introduced.
COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in Canada in 2020, though Statistics Canada adds that the pandemic may have also contributed indirectly to a number of other deaths across the country.
The largest declines in life expectancy were observed in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, with the drop greater for men at more than eight months, than for women, at nearly five months.
Also this …
Groups representing Canada’s paramedics are calling for improved mental health services as staff shortages and unprecedented call volumes take a toll on workers.
Dave Deines, president of the Paramedic Association of Canada, said ambulance-paramedic services across the country are reporting increases in call volumes and decreases in staff because of the pandemic and the overdose crisis.
CUPE in Ontario said it conducted a survey of more than 14-hundred of its unionized paramedics in October that found 92 per cent said they were understaffed and the workload is hurting their mental and physical health.
The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals said an internal report obtained by the union shows ambulances were idled for a cumulative 17-thousand hours in October due to limited staff.
Manitoba Shared Health said in a statement that it has made recruitment a significant area of it’s focus.
The latest available data from B-C Emergency Health Services showed mental health was represented in about 46 per cent of all its long-term disability claims in 2020.
Troy Clifford, union president with the Ambulance Paramedics of B-C, said the government can’t recruit and retain enough workers and he’s calling for better wages and benefits to entice people to join and stay in the field.
And this …
A First Nation in British Columbia is expected to release preliminary results today of a geophysical examination at the site of a former residential school.
Chief Willie Sellars of the Williams Lake First Nation has said the first phase of the investigation at the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School has been challenging for its members and area First Nations.
He said in a written statement in November that the investigation has opened old wounds as people have recounted stories of abuse.
But he said the information has been helpful as part of the first phase of the investigation involving technical experts.
The investigation near Williams Lake comes after the use of ground-penetrating radar led to the discovery last year of what are believed to be hundreds of unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
Following what was found in Kamloops, similar searches were done at former residential schools across the country.
Last week, the federal government announced it will transfer thousands more documents related to residential schools to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said a new agreement with the centre outlines how and when the documents will be sent so the organization can make them available to residential school survivors.
What we are watching in the U.S. …
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert Monday to potentially deploy to Europe as part of a NATO “response force” amid growing concern that Russia could soon make a military move on Ukraine. U.S. President Joe Biden consulted with key European leaders, underscoring U.S. solidarity with allies there.
Putting the U.S.-based troops on heightened alert for Europe suggested diminishing hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin will back away from what Biden himself has said looks like a threat to invade neighbouring Ukraine.
At stake, beyond the future of Ukraine, is the credibility of a NATO alliance that is central to U.S. defense strategy but that Putin views as a Cold War relic and a threat to Russian security.
For Biden, the crisis represents a major test of his ability to forge a united allied stance against Putin.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said about 8,500 U.S.-based troops are being put on alert for possible deployment — not to Ukraine but to NATO territory in Eastern Europe as part of an alliance force meant to signal a unified commitment to deter any wider Putin aggression.
Russia denies it is planning an invasion. It says Western accusations are merely a cover for NATO’s own planned provocations. Recent days have seen high-stakes diplomacy that has failed to reach any breakthrough, and key players in the drama are making moves that suggest fear of imminent war. Biden has sought to strike a balance between actions meant to deter Putin and those that might provide the Russian leader with an opening to use the huge force he has assembled at Ukraine’s border.
The Pentagon’s move, which was done at Biden’s direction and on Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s recommendation, is being made in tandem with actions by other NATO member governments to bolster a defensive presence in Eastern European nations. Denmark, for example, is sending a frigate and F-16 warplanes to Lithuania; Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join NATO naval forces, and France stands ready to send troops to Romania.
NATO has not made a decision to activate the Response Force, which consists of about 40,000 troops from multiple nations. That force was enhanced in 2014 — the year Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and intervened in support of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine — by creating a “spearhead force” of about 20,000 troops on extra-high alert within the larger Response Force.
What we are watching in the rest of the world …
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has a woman on its highest court for the first time.
Ayesha Malik’s swearing-in on Monday as a justice on Pakistan’s Supreme Court was a landmark moment for the Islamic nation where women often struggle to get justice — especially in cases involving sexual assault.
Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmad administered Malik’s oath-taking in Islamabad. The event had been a controversial development for Pakistan’s male-dominated judicial system. Malik’s appointment, confirmed last week by Pakistani President Arif Alvi, silenced some of her critics who opposed her promotion on technical grounds.
Congratulations flowed from the top, with Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeting of Malik, 55, “I wish her all the best.”
Pakistani Sen. Sherry Rehman shared a photo of Malik’s oath-taking on Twitter. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also tweeted, saying Malik’s swearing in was “a great day for Pakistan.”
The process to elevate Malik from the Punjab provincial high court, which she joined in 2012, had been unusually contentious. A nine-member judicial commission recommends judges for promotion.
Five members of the commission supported Malik’s appointment, while the other four opposed it.
Malik’s allies hope her appointment clears the way for more promotions of women in Pakistan’s courts.
Women in Pakistan struggle to get justice – especially in cases involving sexual assault. Authorities and society cast doubt on the victims in many cases.
On this day in 1997 …
In his first major international speech since becoming Quebec’s premier late the previous year, Rene Levesque told the Economic Club of New York that Quebec independence was inevitable.
In entertainment …
Comic Samantha Bee says she believes humour is always the cure, particularly at a time when the world has never been more fraught.
It’s the lens through which her TBS late-night series “Full Frontal” has operated for seven seasons, along with Bee’s weekly interview podcast, “Full Release.”
Reached by phone in New York, the Toronto-native says she’s looking forward to joining this week’s Hot Docs Podcast Festival with a remote, live edition of “Full Release” on Friday.
The podcast premiered in July 2020, and while it proved to be the perfect pandemic vocation as a solely audio format, Bee had been plotting one for several years.
With guests ranging from Canadian gynecologist Jen Gunter to writer Roxane Gay and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, “Full Release” offers a space for Bee to focus on a single subject, for up to an hour.
“The show itself is editorial and the podcast is a conversation,” says Bee. “It’s me being led by my own curiosity and getting a full portrait of a person, hearing their story and understanding where they’re coming from.”
It also means she’s finally getting to spend time with people she actually likes. Because if you know “Full Frontal,” then you’re well aware that Bee is often speaking to or taking down controversial politicians and policies, from Ted Cruz to Jeb Bush, through a distinctly feminist position.
As Bee describes it, her objective on “Full Frontal” has always been “to press the gas pedal and go,” knowing time is limited and there are “boxes to be checked” It has made her a polarizing figure on the left and the right, earning her a label she says she personally enjoys: “the queen of confrontation.”
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden responded to a question about inflation on Monday by calling a Fox News reporter a vulgarity.
The president was in the East Room of the White House for a meeting of his Competition Council, which is focused on changing regulations and enforcing laws to help consumers deal with high prices. Reporters in the room shouted a number of questions after Biden’s remarks.
Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked Biden about inflation, which is at a nearly 40-year high and has hurt the president’s public approval. Doocy’s network has been relentlessly critical of Biden.
Doocy called out, “Do you think inflation is a political liability ahead of the midterms?”
Biden responded with sarcasm, “It’s a great asset — more inflation.” Then he shook his head and added, “What a stupid son of a bitch.”
The president’s comments were captured on video and by the microphone in front of him. Doocy laughed it off in a subsequent appearance on his network, joking, “Nobody has fact-checked him yet and said it’s not true.”
Doocy told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that Biden called him later to the clear the air. Doocy said Biden told him, “It’s nothing personal, pal.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2022
Monkeypox vaccines will be offered to anyone in the U.S. who thinks they have been been exposed to the virus and groups most at risk of catching it, including men who have sex with men, measures officials hope will contain the growing outbreak as they work to bolster limited supplies.
The new strategy recommends anyone with a confirmed or suspected exposure to monkeypox get vaccinated, expanding earlier rules limiting the shots to those with known exposures only.
This includes people who have had close physical contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox, people who know their sexual partner was diagnosed and “men who have sex with men who have recently had multiple sex partners in a venue where there was known to be monkeypox or in an area where monkeypox is spreading,” the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said.
HHS said it will make 56,000 doses of the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine immediately available to states from the national stockpile and will provide an additional 240,000 doses in the coming weeks.
Jynneos, produced by Danish biotech Bavarian Nordic, is given in two doses delivered 28 days apart and is the safer of two vaccines used against monkeypox.
Supplies are limited and officials said states with the highest rates of monkeypox and that have more people vulnerable to severe disease will be prioritized, with Hawaii, Massachusetts, Utah, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, California, Colorado and Florida and Washington, D.C., slated to be in the first tier of vaccine recipients, according to a draft of the plans seen by the Washington Post.
States may also request supplies of ACAM2000, an older vaccine developed for smallpox that is also believed to protect against monkeypox and is in much greater supply, though it is associated with serious side effects and its design makes it unsuitable for immunocompromised and pregnant people.
Monkeypox is a well-understood entity that has flared up in parts of Central and Western Africa for decades. For decades, too, monkeypox has mostly been ignored by the global community who, before this year’s outbreak, rarely encountered the disease and these instances were almost always linked to travel. It does not spread easily and is primarily transmitted through close contact with an infected animal or person or contaminated objects like towels, clothes or bedding, though it can also spread via respiratory droplets produced when people breathe, cough, talk or sneeze. Monkeypox typically causes symptoms that include fever and a characteristic rash. The infection is usually relatively mild and will go away on its own within a month or so. It can kill and cause serious illness, however, and infection is particularly risky for children and pregnant people. The virus is a close relative of smallpox, unarguably one of the deadliest diseases to plague humanity and the only human disease to have ever been eradicated. This proximity means treatments and vaccines are available for monkeypox, even if not designed for it.
In May, the near-simultaneous emergence of monkeypox in countries where it does not usually spread in Europe and North America alarmed experts and public health authorities. Some of these experts have long warned that the complete cessation of smallpox vaccination would leave the world vulnerable to monkeypox outbreaks and the way cases cropped up suggests it may have been quietly circulating for some time. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show there have been 351 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the U.S. as of June 29, with large clusters in California (80), New York (72), Illinois (46) and Florida (35). The official count is likely to be a severe underestimate and could be painting an overly rosy picture of the disease’s spread. Experts warn that inadequate and underwhelming testing for the virus has left the nation ignorant as to the true extent of the outbreak. Globally, the CDC said there have been more than 5,000 cases confirmed across 51 different countries by laboratory testing during the 2022 outbreak. The bulk of these have been recorded in European countries like the U.K. (1,076), Germany (874), Spain (800), France (440), Portugal (391) and the Netherlands (257). A notable cluster has also been documented in Canada (276). Many more cases are suspected, but not confirmed, and official tallies likely underestimate the number of cases, particularly in areas with poor testing infrastructure. This data also does not capture the extent of the much longer monkeypox outbreak that has been ongoing in some African countries, notably Nigeria, from earlier this year and as an endemic disease for decades. Despite seeing more infections over a much longer time period, these countries have not received any monkeypox vaccines.
1.6 million. That’s how many doses of the Jynneos vaccine the federal government will make available this year, HHS said, including the nearly 300,000 doses already released or expected in coming weeks. HHS said it expects an additional 750,000 doses will be made available over summer and another 500,000 throughout fall. As of late June, HHS said it had already distributed more than 9,000 doses of vaccine.
What To Watch For
Vaccine supplies and changing eligibility. There is not nearly enough of the Jynneos vaccine available in the federal stockpile for everyone who might want it. There have already been supply issues in areas that launched their own initiatives ahead of the national campaign. In Washington, D.C., and New York City, for example, vaccine supplies reportedly ran out less than a day after they kick started their immunization drives. The issue could intensify if eligibility guidelines expand or the outbreak grows. Officials have acknowledged the limited supply of vaccines and suggested the national strategy may change once supplies are on firmer footing. A stronger vaccine supply chain could mean a shift to vaccinating people before they have been exposed to monkeypox, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a press briefing.
While the Jynneos vaccine may be in short supply, HHS officials told Forbes there is enough smallpox vaccine in federal stockpiles to immunize the entire U.S. population. The precise breakdown is not clear, but a significant portion consists of the ACAM vaccine. There is also a third shot, the Aventis Pasteur Smallpox Vaccine (APSV), which has similar setbacks to ACAM and has not been cleared for use. The nature of the ACAM vaccine poses some unique challenges if Jynneos supplies are insufficient. Aside from the noted risk of potentially serious side effects, the vaccine uses a related virus, vaccinia, to induce a sore or pock in the recipient, usually on the upper arm. On rare occasions, this can spread elsewhere on the body or even to other people and can leave a distinctive scar. The use of live virus limits who it can be given to, notably excluding people with compromised immune systems, those in close contact with such people and pregnant people. As monkeypox cases have been reported disproportionately among men who have sex with men, this poses a potentially significant problem, as rates of people living with HIV are higher in that community. An additional issue arises with how the ACAM shot is used. It relies on an old form of immunization featuring a distinct technique and special bifurcated needle, which most practicing clinicians are unlikely to have much, if any, experience using.
It took two years, but researchers are now convinced that cats — although highly unlikely — can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to humans after a vet in Thailand caught the virus from a sneezy pet tabby who tested positive with the virus. This is the “first solid evidence” of a cat-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, according to American Scientific.
The feline finding, published in Emerging Infectious Diseases on 6 June, came about by accident, says co-author Sarunyou Chusri, an infectious-disease researcher and physician at Prince of Songkla University in Hat Yai, southern Thailand. In August, a father and son who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were transferred to an isolation ward at the university’s hospital. Their ten-year-old cat was also swabbed and tested positive. While being swabbed, the cat sneezed in the face of a veterinary surgeon, who was wearing a mask and gloves but no eye protection.
Three days later, the vet developed a fever, sniffles and a cough, and later tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, but none of her close contacts developed COVID-19, suggesting that she had been infected by the cat. Genetic analysis also confirmed that the vet was infected with the same variant as the cat and its owners, and the viral genomic sequences were identical.
But researchers say cat-to-human transmission is “probably rare,” according to Scientific American, as “infected cats don’t shed much virus, and shed for only a few days,” according to University of Hong Kong virologist Leo Poon. Other animals known to have passed the virus on to humans in very rare circumstances include mink, pet hamsters, and white-tailed deer. Of course humans are the main, nearly exclusive spreaders of Covid-19.
Andre Lavoie knew almost immediately that he was suffering a stroke.
The 60-year-old from Calgary was helping his wife put away groceries in 2015 when he dropped a can onto the floor.
“I bent to pick it up with my left arm and … nothing. I could not pick it up,” Lavoie said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“I said ‘Oh My God. I’m having a stroke.’ Luckily it did not affect my judgment and I went to my wife and said ‘call 911.’”
Lavoie said he is one of the lucky ones. His blood clot cleared on its own by the time the ambulance arrived, but months of headaches and a feeling of unease followed.
He agreed to be part of a focus group at the Foothills Medical Centre conducted by the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. It was part of a large study about the use of an established heart medication in stroke patients.
Research published Wednesday in the British medical journal The Lancet shows that Tenecteplase, commonly used as a clot-buster for heart attacks, is also an effective treatment for acute ischemic stroke — when blood flow through a brain artery is blocked by a clot.
The two-year study, which included Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the University of Toronto, included 1,600 patients at hospitals throughout Canada. It was the largest stroke clinical trial ever run in the country.
Dr. Bijoy Menon, a University of Calgary professor and a neurologist at Foothills hospital, was the co-principal investigator of the study. He said the common treatment has been a drug called Alteplase, which is effective but more difficult to administer.
He said it takes up to an hour and requires an infusion pump that needs to be monitored.
That’s not the case with the heart drug, which is simply injected and begins working almost immediately, said Menon.
“The big advantage would actually be the speed at which this could be delegated. This could be delegated really easy and fast for folks in rural hospitals, in ambulances, folks even in big hospitals … everything gets done really fast so that’s the big advantage of this new drug.
“The time you make up could really improve outcomes.”
Menon said the findings could revolutionize stroke treatment and could also offer a less expensive option in mid- and lower-income countries.
“Tenecteplase is known to be an effective clot-dissolving drug. It is very easy to administer, which makes it a game-changer when seconds count to save brain cells,” Menon said.
“When you are treating your patients faster, they tend to do better and it saves lives.”
Lavoie said when he shared his input in the focus group, he said using the heart drug in stroke patients was a good idea.
“When they said this is one injection and they can do it earlier than the other one I said ‘Jeez don’t do a study. Just do it,’” he said with a chuckle.
“If I get another stroke I know what to ask for.”
Menon said the drug is already proven to be safe and, with the results of the study, he expects it could be months rather than years before it starts to be used on a regular basis.
Carol Kenney, the clinical trials nurse coordinator, said the new drug would free nurses up to provide additional treatment for the patients once it is administered.
“We say time is brains so the quicker we treat patients the better it is.”
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